37. Mr. Lee
asked the Minister of Power what was the total of steel imports during March, 1960; how this figure compares with March, 1959; and what the cost per annum would be if this level of imports were maintained.
Are we not getting into a somewhat serious situation in connection with our imports of sheet? Can he confirm that the targets laid down for the expansion of sheet production in Britain, especially 1958, were never met 29 and, because of that, we are running into a serious position in the matter of imports which, if it continues, may have a deleterious effect on our balance of payments?
§ Mr. Wood
Home production of these steels is expected to reach about 2.8 million tons this year, compared with 2.5 million tons last year, which is a fairly substantial increase of 11 per cent. This has been the purpose of our new strip steel construction, and the exports of steel are still continuing at a high rate, because it is of value to maintain our export markets at the same time that marginal shortages make it necessary for us to import steel on this scale.
Can the Minister say whether there has been a failure to expand sufficiently to meet that which we should have anticipated as being the correct demand by this time? Does not the nub of the matter lie in the fact that whenever production in the car industry, or a similar industry, expands, it must be taken care of by increased imports and not by our own production?
§ Mr. Wood
I cannot accept that there has been a failure to expand, because the figure of 24 million tons this year is one-fifth above the level last year, and more than one-tenth above the previous record of 1957. It is common experience that at a time of buoyant demand marginal shortages have always to be made up by imports—which this year are less than they were in 1956.